Slightly better than the first.
If you saw The Hunger Games a year and a half back, you already know how the sequel plays out. Looking at the story only, they begin and end the same way, with climactic scenes that could only be closer if shot-for-shot. But here’s where the Prophetic Mr. Ebert comes in. ”It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it’s about.” The horror and romance genres have been self-replicating for at least three and a half decades, but each addition is no different than the last. That’s why the approach taken to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire makes this a valuable sequel.
Catching Fire is not only more certain of its story, it’s more involved in it. (It’s also slightly better.) I’ve always firmly believed that dystopian sci-fi isn’t only about showing a corrupt, futuristic government. It doesn’t work unless it’s accessible. Catching Fire tackles this well, with a story that can be effectively–and rather unexpectedly–bothersome. It was hardly even suggested what the government of Panem was in the first installment; this time around, society is nothing more than an oversized tabloid. The bulk of the movie warns about people who can never go far enough with exploiting innocent people, just so long as the public is entertained. Pair that with the film’s overall glamor, and what came to mind was a cross between 1984 and Desperately Seeking Susan.
And after that, it’s the return of the “kill or be killed” theme. This is the 75th Annual Hunger Games, and the celebratory plan is to bring back a handful of the previous victors. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are now against the elites.
Throughout the movie, we see see a few new faces worth noting, but shoutouts go specifically to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amanda Plummer. (You could probably guess the kinds of characters they play.) Another mention goes to Liam Hemsworth, whose role as Gale is no longer a cameo. Even with that having been adjusted, the major improvement seems decidedly Jennifer Lawrence, who did well with The Hunger Games as it is. Now she’s a fully interesting, more defined character. She seems to have PTSD, and she pitches that to us believably.
Francis Lawrence took a slightly heavier approach with Catching Fire, which almost makes me glad that Gary Ross, an impressive director at the least, refused to take part in this sequel. The “kill or be killed” scenes are continuously thrilling, marked by great cinematography. Jennifer Lawrence’s stunt double doesn’t look a thing like her, but why should I complain? I was entertained. The movie even pushes the envelope with its PG-13 violence, even going to torture sequences to illustrate Panem’s increased corruption. By the end, Lawrence had so much blood on her, she looked a bit like Uma Thurman after the Crazy 88′s in Kill Bill.
The screenplay was written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (credited as Michael deBruyn). Both of whom have undeniable talent. Between them are the screenplays for 127 Hours, The Full Monty, Little Miss Sunshine, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Oblivion, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Slumdog Millionaire, Toy Story 3. All acclaimed, by the way, and their adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s novel is solid. The problem is they just don’t seem interested in the story itself. It’s of note that things seem to play out at a rigid pace. It’s a pretty slow movie.
Though we can get past the fact that Catching Fire is a dragging, 400-pound roll of carpet. There’s several staples fastening us to that roll, and moving along with it is (needless to say) enjoyable.